Buddhism 499: Emptiness Ain’t so Empty…

Sunyata is more than Emptiness, as Sunya, Zero, is more then the number 0. It is a sea of possibilities. We need only two digits: 0 + 1, just as Reality has two opposing aspects: Emptiness and Fullness. Nature usually lies somewhere in between. This is an important concept in Buddhism, and the source of much confusion. Because Emptiness has a bad connotation in western psychology, suggesting loneliness and depression, but that’s not what the Buddhist concept is all about. First and foremost, the concept is an extension of the original Buddhist concept of anatta, anatman, or non-self, which is something of a middle position between the Cosmic Self of Brahmanism and the total annihilation of Jainism.

I think of sunyata as a mathematical reality, 0, in opposition to a hypothetical 1, in which the common-sense reality of myriad numbers find their places best described as fractions finding frequencies in which to exist as agents of solidity, or not, in multiple colors and sounds. I assume that this conceptual dichotomy is the foundation of F.S.C. Northrop’s distinction between the undifferentiated and differentiated aesthetic continuums, but I don’t think that this is a genuine dualism but merely a conceptual one, a mathematical one. Because the invention of the mathematical zero took many centuries, and it appears that Buddhist monks were at the heart of it all along, so not merely a concept bought or borrowed.

But we Westerners are junkies for abundance and fullness, until our cups runneth over, and so skeptical of anything that might place a limit on that, and the absolute freedom implied. But aren’t the lights and sounds of everyday existence nothing but limits on the absolute fullness that would be pure white light on the one hand, or black-hole gravity on the other? Our existence is a phenomenon, and one that is hard to describe in words, and so math is the language of science. But words are the language of philosophy and religion, and so we do the best we can, given the limitations inherent. So, the best part of Emptiness is that it’s indeed boundless in its purity, so that’s a win for our ontological needs. But the beauty comes with its sublime limits, of light and sound, and that’s a big win for us aesthetically. Win-win? Nothing wrong with that.